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UK government extends virus lockdown by at least 3 weeks

LONDON — The British government announced Thursday that a nationwide lockdown imposed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus will remain in place for at least three more weeks, as health officials said the UK’s outbreak — one of Europe’s worst — was nearing its peak.

The lockdown has been in place since March 23. Schools, pubs, restaurants, and most shops are closed, and most people are allowed to leave home only for essential errands or exercise.

“We know it’s rough going at this time,’’ said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the British leader recovers from COVID-19.

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But, Raab said, “we’ve sacrificed far too much to ease up now.”

Medical officials say the number of new cases and hospitalizations for the coronavirus in the UK has leveled off, but it’s too early to loosen restrictions on daily life.

As of Thursday, 13,729 people had died in UK hospitals after testing positive, an increase of 861 from a day earlier. That number understates the true toll of the pandemic, since it does not include hundreds, and maybe thousands, of virus-related deaths in nursing homes and other settings.

Associated Press

Japan expands emergency, announces cash handouts

TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expanded a state of emergency to all of Japan from just Tokyo and other urban areas as the virus continues to spread.

Abe also announced cash handouts of 100,000 yen ($930) for each of Japan’s 120 million citizens.

He said the expanded state of emergency is aimed at reducing the movement of people and achieving as much as 80 percent social distancing.

Abe declared a limited state of emergency on April 7 that covered only Tokyo and six other prefectures deemed at highest risk. He issued a stay-at-home request to people in those areas, but later expanded it to the rest of the country.

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Abe’s coronavirus response has been criticized for being too slow and too lax. Several local leaders had asked him to include their prefectures in the emergency, while others declared their own states of emergency, in rare moves underscoring their frustration with Abe.

Associated Press

Putin postpones World War II victory parade due to virus

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered the postponement Thursday of a Victory Day parade marking the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II, an event planned as a lavish celebration that has topped the Kremlin’s political agenda.

Speaking in televised remarks on Thursday, a grim-faced Putin said the pandemic makes public gatherings in Red Square too dangerous.

The postponement follows Putin’s decision to put off a vote originally scheduled for this month on constitutional changes that would allow him to try to stay in office until 2036, if he desired.

The plebiscite and the Victory Day celebrations had dominated the political agenda for months, and a painful decision to delay them followed weeks of procrastination.

Putin has ordered a partial economic shutdown until April 30 and recently warned officials to prepare for the “most extraordinary” scenarios of the outbreak as the number of people infected in Russia has grown exponentially.

Associated Press

Guatemalan official says 44 deportees tested positive

GUATEMALA CITY — Forty-four Guatemalans deported on one flight from the United States this week have tested positive for COVID-19, a Guatemala government official with knowledge of the situation said Thursday, amid rising rejection of deportees due to virus fears.

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Later, Guatemala Foreign Affairs Minister Pedro Brolo told the Associated Press the government had again suspended deportation flights. He did not explain why, but said the move was temporary.

The flight with the infected deportees arrived in Guatemala’s capital Monday from Brownsville, Texas, carrying 76 Guatemalans. Three deportees displaying coronavirus symptoms were immediately taken for testing. When one of those tests came back positive more who had been quarantined at the airport were tested and 43 more resulted positive, said the official who had not been authorized to share the information publicly and requested anonymity.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement had no immediate comment on the report but has said in recent days that it screens everyone in its custody and quarantines anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19. The agency said that 100 detainees in its custody have tested positive for the virus, including 17 at a detention facility in San Diego and 12 at one in Batavia, N.Y.

Associated Press

UK paid $20 million for new tests, but they didn’t work

LONDON — The two Chinese companies were offering a risky proposition: 2 million home test kits said to detect antibodies for the coronavirus for at least $20 million, take it or leave it.

The asking price was high, the technology was unproven, and the money had to be paid upfront. And the buyer would be required to pick up the crate loads of test kits from a facility in China.

Yet British officials took the deal, according to a senior civil servant involved, then confidently promised tests would be available at pharmacies in as little as two weeks.

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“As simple as a pregnancy test,” gushed Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “It has the potential to be a total game changer.”

There was one problem, however: The tests did not work.

Found to be insufficiently accurate by a laboratory at Oxford University, half a million of the tests are now gathering dust in storage. Another 1.5 million bought at a similar price from other sources have also gone unused. The fiasco has left embarrassed British officials scrambling to get back at least some of the money.

New York Times